Bua Luang Thai Cuisine is pleasing

24 Oct
Thai iced coffees

Thai iced coffees, one mixed, one not

Because I’ve been on vacation, it’s been three weeks since my last Lunching Down Solano post. Today we visited 1166 Solano Ave, the home of Bua Luang Thai Cuisine, which is currently celebrating Halloween in spades. A fat mummy and a Frankenstein monster are painted on the window, the ceiling is adorned with fake cottony spider webs that house not only spiders but bats, and balloons with bloody handprints and skulls are tucked into various corners of the restaurant.

The wall-hung chalk menu show the specialties of the house in the neatest printing I’ve ever seen. George made the comment that it didn’t even look like it was done by hand because it was too perfect, prompting suspicion on my part that perhaps someone has figured out how to artificially create chalkboard letters that nevertheless appear hand drawn….

George's curry

George’s red curry pork with the odd little table decoration that I’m assuming is supposed to look like a floating water lily, but since it’s fake, there’s no water.

Service was prompt. We ordered at noon and had received all our food by 12:10. Of course the first dishes brought to the table were the obligatory salads that I could have done without. I took a tiny taste of the white stuff on top of it and surmised it was undoubtedly a mayonnaise-based dressing, at which point, I pushed it aside. I wish someone could explain to me why restaurants with otherwise good food feel the need to foist small dressing-laden salads on unsuspecting diners. I suppose I should have asked what the dressing was before it arrived, but I was distracted by the holiday decorations.

I was feeling weak-willed, so I ordered the Thai iced coffee, which was really good. Then I happened to notice a fellow Weight Watcher being seated at a table across the restaurant. Damn! She would see the tall glass of sweet, icy goodness in front of me and know that I was playing fast and loose with my discretional points. Thank goodness she ordered one too. Now we can guard each others’ secret, and nobody has the upper hand.

pumpkin curry combo

My chicken pumpkin curry combo, with brown rice swapped in for an extra $.50.

I got the $12.95 lunch combo, which was one appetizer, one entrée, steamed rice, and the aforementioned salad. It was a bit pricey for a lunch, but it was a pretty big portion. (Of course, considering that the salad brought negative value to the combo, I think that omitting the salad and charging less just makes sense.)

The spring roll was fine, but it didn’t have any mint in it. It’s not that it advertised that it had mint in it and then didn’t. It’s just that I really like mint in spring rolls, so I missed it. My pumpkin curry was just the right amount of spicy and had a good mixture of chicken, pumpkin, and other veggies.

Dave's tofu and basil dish

Dave’s tofu basil dish (Bonus points if you can find the basil!)

Dave’s basil and tofu had very little basil in it, so he was disappointed. George’s pork was on the dry side, but he liked the red curry. Rather than opting for one of the lunch combos, Dave and George both ordered off the menu, which in most places would be more expensive. But their dishes were $8.95 and also came with rice and salad. So essentially I got one spring roll for $4. It’s not outrageous, but it’s somewhat counter-intuitive when it comes to lunch pricing.

yucky salad

I almost forgot to add my photo of the yucky salad!

If you disregard the salad, the food was good. The service was quite good. (My water glass was never empty.) And the Halloween decorations were festive. All in all, a pleasant lunch.

American Visionary Arts Museum rocks!

21 Oct

AVAM building

If you are ever in Baltimore (or even nearby), you must go to the American Visionary Arts Museum, affectionately referred to as A-VAM by locals. It has the most eclectic collection of modern art I’ve ever seen, the common denominator being fun. From Brian Dowdall’s colorful Baltimore Beasties in the basement to the kinetic sculptures to the wedding altar in the garden, there is much to engage the senses for young and old alike.

Kylie inside wedding altar @AVAM

Kylie sits in the wooden meditation chapel/wedding altar built by Ben Wilson.

Most popular with the youngest attendees we saw was the exhibit on flatulence, where one young girl took great delight in pushing the button that created various fart noises. (Luckily, it was not equipped with smell-o-rama technology.)

An amazing coincidence occurred in the Tall Sculpture Barn. I was reading the explanatory plaque about the roughly five-foot tall ball of bras and discovered that it was created by local East Bay artist Emily Duffy, the daughter of my good friend Evey!  I’d met Emily completely separately from her mom in the “How Berkeley Can You Be?” parade several years ago when I was driving our toy-covered Dodge Colt, while she drove her Mondrian car and wore a matching dress.

AVAM duck sculptureWe weren’t allowed to take photos inside the museum, so I can’t show you the bra ball here. But it looks pretty much the way you would imagine a huge ball of bras to look.

One of my favorite exhibits was their collection of whimsical miniature mechanical pieces that were operated by a button. AVAM hat

And it has the best museum gift shop—full of inexpensive, funny, and unusual items including jewelry, hats, books, and much more. I  bought a scarf and a mood ring. Dave bought several postcards. And the three of us got matching AVAM hats!

We happened to arrive at the museum on a day when the power had gone out on two of the floors, so we were admitted free of charge! Although we were limited as to what we could see, we were still there for a couple of hours, and I left completely satisfied. I would definitely go again.

For more info on AVAM, go to http://www.avam.org

Baltimore is full of surprises!

17 Oct

Bmore Hamden Love

Baltimore appears to be a city of a thousand faces. Ask a native to give you the quintessential B’more tour, and you’re likely to get itineraries as varied as the people you ask. Clearly three days is not enough time to really do Baltimore, but it has allowed us to dip our toes into the world of our 21-year old daughter, who loves her home away from home.

Photos will go a lot further in describing this Maryland city than mere words, so I present a sparsely narrated photo essay of one mother’s experience of Baltimore.

Bmore Hamden huns

These ladies represent the beloved Hons, who pop up everywhere, though their presence in the Hamden neighborhood seemed particularly abundant.

Cafe Hun in Hamden

We didn’t actually go in Café Hon (also in Hamden), but I enjoyed the outer décor.

Natty boh utz girlApparently there is a romance between two ubiquitous Baltimore icons—Natty Boh, the mustachioed mascot for the beer National Bohemian, and the Utz chips girl. If this is true, I suppose that one day they will produce beer-flavored chips.

SWAT wedding party

Baltimore has loyal and avid sports fans, judging by the wedding party we saw. You can’t see them, but the bride is wearing purple sneakers (the Ravens’ team color). According to one of the guys setting up for the reception in a museum we were visiting, they have a large-screen TV live streaming the Orioles game, so they don’t miss a second of the action, which was nearby, judging from the many Orioles fans walking from far-off illegal parking places toward the stadium. The ceremony was supposed to start at 6:00, but the game was threatening to delay their vows. (Apparently they had planned the wedding, not anticipating that the Orioles would make the playoffs.)

Paper Moon Diner cars

Outside décor at Paper Moon Diner

blue car man outside PMC

blue car man outside Paper Moon Diner

The Paper Moon Diner is a must-see and probably deserves its own post, but here are just some of the many photos I took there.

Pez bigger

Pez dispenser collection at Paper Moon Diner

 

 

Stalking the Bogeyman in NYC

12 Oct
Roderick Hill as David Holthouse

Roderick Hill as David Holthouse

While we were in New York City, we took advantage of our friend’s membership in the Theater Development Fund to purchase discount tickets to an off-Broadway show.

The play was based on an intense true story that aired on This American Life. The story begins when David Holthouse is seven years old, played convincingly by Roderick Hill. The actor does an excellent job of portraying a child at different ages and as an adult without giving in to the instinct that many might have to overplay children.

In case you are someone who pays attention to trigger warnings, perhaps I should disclose now that the play revolves around the rape of a child.

Recently relocated to Anchorage, David’s family had been invited to have cocktails with neighbors at their house. While the grown-ups chatter on about sports and life in Alaska, David is blithely sent off to the basement to hang out with the teenage boy who pretends to be a big-brother figure for a while but ends up violently raping him.

NYC Stalking set close-upThe play focuses on David trying to recover while keeping it all a secret through his adulthood. He becomes a journalist, moves to Denver, and seeks therapy, but he learns that his rapist has also moved to Denver. He comes to the conclusion that in order to move on with his own life and also to protect other children who could come into contact with this duplicitous monster, he must murder him.

Stalking set

The set design is noteworthy for its attention to detail and its flexibility in becoming the backdrop to many separate scenes while also portraying the different eras portrayed within the play. The Atari game immediately places one solidly in the early 70s, and the walls of photos connected by strings illustrate David’s intricate plans to kill his rapist.

Stalking the Bogeyman is an intense, worthwhile evening of theater. It is playing at an New World Stages on West 50th Street, where on any night there are five different performances going on at once—a veritable multiplex of live theater, which attests to the robust theater scene in Manhattan. It’s encouraging to know that NYC is still a place where one can see intimate drama as well as huge Broadway productions.

Stalking cast

the cast of Stalking the Bogeyman

Transportation trauma

10 Oct

C&JAlthough this was primarily a vacation to see the fall foliage and visit our daughter at college, Dave did take advantage of our proximity to a few East Coast publishers to schedule a few meetings in an effort to drum up a little business. (The book biz is not as solid as it has been in years past…)

So our first full day of leaf peeping in New Hampshire was going to start after Dave’s 10:00 meeting in Boston was over. We figured he’d be done around 10:30 and be back shortly after noon. At 8:40 am, John drove him to the Portsmouth bus terminal for a 9:00 departure. But traffic was heavier than John anticipated, and Dave missed the bus that ran only once an hour. Although it’s referred to as the Portsmouth terminal, it is not in the cute little coastal town of Portsmouth but a few miles outside of it. It’s pretty much just a bus terminal surrounded by a large parking lot. So it’s not as if he could hang out in a café while he waited.

He did catch the next bus at 10:00, but it broke down en route. He was over an hour late to his meeting, but luckily the people who awaited him on the other end were extremely understanding.

portsmouth terminal

Portsmouth bus terminal

Dave arrived at the Boston terminal in time to return on the noon bus. He followed the signs, but his bus wasn’t there. Apparently his bus left from the special platform. Once he was informed of the right place to board, he ran to catch his bus, only to see it pull away from the platform. He tried to signal the driver but was scolded by a bus terminal employee for even trying to get him to stop. Another hour to kill in a bus terminal.

On my end, I had set off early to pick him up in Portsmouth, thinking I could scout out a lunch spot that we could return to after I picked him up. Then I got his text that he’d missed the bus, so I decided to have a leisurely lunch in town and do a bit of sightseeing before I drove to the terminal. But first I took our Ford rental car straight to the terminal so I knew where it was, then headed into town to look for possible eateries. There was a charming looking burger place, so I parked at a nearby meter.

Back home, most meters accept credit cards. This one didn’t. I had no change, so I got back in the car and resigned myself to paying for a garage. When I found one, the sign declared that the garage accepted only cash.

Portsmouth,_NH_welcome_sign_IMG_2656

I drove around in search of street parking on the outskirts of this charming little New England town until I realized I no longer had time for lunch, let alone shopping. So I tried to head back the way I came, but the number of one-way streets prevented me from retracing my route. I crossed a few bodies of water that didn’t look familiar before I decided to use the GPS on my phone to return to the bus terminal. And that worked.

Until it died.

200px-Portsmouth_Harbor_New_Hampshire_William_James_Glackens

painting of Portsmouth harbor by William James Glackens

Refusing to dissolve into a puddle of tears, I was determined to find the bus terminal. But I was also quite hungry, as it was now after 2 pm. On the way out of town, I spotted a sign that promised pizza, so I stopped, hoping they had slices that I could take with me. It wasn’t really pizza, but it was sustenance. While they microwaved my hunk of bread with tomato sauce, I perused their gourmet offerings, which included $6 baguettes and designer sodas. In addition to the square of pizza-like bread, I purchased a tiny $2 bottle of cane cola and a chocolate cookie for Dave, jumped in the car, and was about 55% positive that I was headed in the direction of the bus terminal.

Although my return route was very different, I somehow managed to find the station. But of course, my phone was dead, so I had to be vigilant if I wanted to find Dave. Although the lot was full due to construction, a nice uniformed employee told me I could park at the curb briefly. I had a ten-minute wait, in which time I ate the cookie I had bought for Dave earlier.

It was only when his bus was scheduled to arrive that I realized I needed to find a restroom. So I dashed to the ladies’ room, hoping I wouldn’t miss Dave, who had probably tried to call me and had gotten my voice mail.

When I walked back toward the car, he had found the car on his own and was there waiting for me. Mission accomplished! The meeting had gone great, and he felt confident that we had their business.

I was so glad to see him. It was time to begin our leaf peeping in earnest. We still had three and a half hours before we were expected back at John and Jean’s for dinner. I confessed that I had eaten his cookie, but he had gotten one as part of his lunch back in Boston while he waited for the next bus. So I didn’t even have to feel guilty…

Seasonal packing disorder

9 Oct

RosendaleSeasons work way different out here in New England states, which is to say, they have them.

At home in California, we have a Mediterranean climate pretty much year-round, with a rainy season if we’re lucky. And in our current drought, there are no seasons at all.

I packed stupidly for a New England autumn, which is to say, I packed for hot and balmy. So my options to stay appropriately clothed and comfortable temperature-wise have involved questionable fashion choices, such as wearing a pair of Dave’s sweat socks under my sandals and sporting a borrowed fleece over the only sweater I brought, which is hiding my sleeveless top. The idea of sleeveless anything seems ridiculous when I see Muriel put on a wool jacket, a scarf, and mittens to leave for school.hiking with Hope

Of course one of our purported reasons for making this trip is to experience a New England autumn, so we observe lots of colorful fall foliage from the temperature-controlled climate of our rental car as we drive west to the Hudson River Valley. Vivid hues of gold and crimson line our route as we leave New Hampshire, cross back into Massachusetts, and arrive in New York in a matter of hours. (States are so small on the East Coast!)

Rosendale, New York, is warmer, but an early-morning hike up the hill requires appropriate footwear. Hope takes one look at my flimsy sandals and says they will not do. I’m now in tick country. Luckily, Hope and I both have feet in the 9 1/2 to 10 range, and she generously lends me a pair of sneakers.

trestle bridge RosendaleWe walk up, up, up through the fog, where we can view the trestle bridge from above. The carpet of red, yellow, and orange leaves cushions each step as Hope fills us in on the history of this former cement-mining town. Otto, Hope and Sean’s eleven-year-old black and white hound, trots ahead.

I’m so glad that my poorly planned wardrobe didn’t prevent me from participating. Thank goodness for the sisterhood of the big feet.

 

Cake, Cardama, and lots of gourds

7 Oct

 

gourds, gourds, gourds

Gourds grown on Inkwell Farm

We picked up our rental car in Boston and headed toward John and Jean’s place, Inkwell Farm, in Epping, New Hampshire. On the way, we stopped in Aylesbury for lunch at the Barking Dog, which seemed appropriate, since we’d eaten at the Barking Crab the day before. Aylesbury was having their big firefighters fundraiser in the parking lot next to the restaurant, which consisted of a chili cook-off and a bouncy house, two things that I’d have thought would not be a particularly good combination…Cardama

That night we had warm cocktails containing this amazing liqueur called Cardama, handcrafted by our hostess Jean, followed by John’s delectable chicken dish and romano beans. And the culinary highlight was Maddie’s almond raspberry cake, which was to die for.Maddie's almond raspberry cake

When I awoke Monday shortly after 6:30, I enjoyed observing the tight choreography that is the Bennett-Calaci morning routine in the kitchen. Maddie is dressed for her office job, while Muriel pirouettes around the kitchen (she’s a dancer) and blow-dries her hair while making her lunch for school (she’s also a 7th grader) and John makes coffee and Jean is warming milk for coffee and Stella is wagging her tail hoping that someone drops an edible tidbit on the floor. It’s poetry in motion.

Seasons work way different out here in New England, which is to say, they have them.stella

But it warms up later in the day and is in fact beautiful outside. We drive around looking for fall color and do find some, but the highlight of New Hampshire is seeing our friends and spending time on their blueberry farm with all the chickens, the guineas, and their Rhodesian ridgeback, Stella.

East Coast Vacation, Episode I: Boston

6 Oct

BostonWe arrived in Boston on Friday night, rolled our luggage on the T, and got off at the Stonybrook stop, where Ross met us on foot. We walked a few blocks to their brand new condo (just built) where they’ve lived now for a couple of weeks. Although they still had a few boxes that had yet to be unpacked and were still figuring out where to hang their extensive collection of art, they looked pretty darn settled, especially considering the fact that Ross had to go to work almost as soon as he landed in Boston from California.

Their place still has that newly painted smell, every surface is perfect and unscathed, and lots of big windows let in sunlight and a view of Boston’s downtown sky scape. Ross has a ten-minute T ride to work, and they are within walking distance of lots of neighborhood eateries and a Whole Foods. We strolled over to a Cuban restaurant while a warm sprinkle began to dampen the sidewalk, but it didn’t really rain until we were back inside their condo and in bed.

Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast at a local diner before heading over to the Institute of Contemporary Art, a perfect activity for a gray, cloudy Saturday. We saw some interesting exhibits there, including an engaging multimedia piece called “The Visitors” that involved the simultaneous filming of several people playing instruments in and around a house while one guy took a bath and one woman slept through it all. (I’m not doing it justice with that description, though.) Another piece was a shadow animation that was a new take on the Rapture—material objects rose to the heavens, but people fell from the sky to the ground. And then there was a Paul Chan piece that just made me angry because he took a hardback book, which he purposely did not read, stripped it of its contents, and painted the cover with complete disregard for the book’s original purpose. As if publishing needs any other obstacles…Of course no  photography was allowed in the museum, so I can’t really show any of this.lobster star

I did take a picture at the Barking Crab, where we had fried food and cocktails while listening to a live reggae band. I really wanted a picture of Dennis as the lobster, but he refused.

It was great fun seeing Ross and Dennis’s new home, and we even managed to visit other friends who had relocated from Berkeley to Brookline. Cam and Steve are so happy with their move and enjoy having seasons again.

I’m excited about seeing the fall foliage in New Hampshire, which is our next stop…

 

 

A very Waldo birthday

4 Oct

Waldo stampsI took the Where’s Waldo challenge sponsored by Pegasus Books on Solano, which means that during the month of September, I went to 20 different businesses (mostly on Solano Ave.) and found a little cut-out of that familiar red-and-white-striped-shirt guy in each one. And I have a photo of my stamped sheet to prove it.

For the record, it was pretty difficult to find at Sue Johnson’s Lamps, but it was pretty easy everywhere else. (Well, except at Albany Art Center, but that’s because it wasn’t there. I finally had to ask for help and the woman there admitted she had thrown out the little Waldo that day because she thought the contest was over.)

Along the way I met some interesting people and discovered businesses I never would have gone into otherwise. Sure, the contest was probably aimed at children, but there were no written rules about age restrictions, and besides, I’m about 11 years old on the inside.

Waldo!

Waldo at Pegasus Books

So on my birthday, Dave and I walked up to Pegasus, where we joined the throng of children and their parents for the Where’s Waldo party. We watched Manuela pull the stamped sheets out of an envelope and another store employee dressed as Waldo read the names aloud. Many prizes were awarded, some to people who were not present. There were T-shirts, Zachary’s pizzas, gift certificates, books, and movie passes—all great prizes that aren’t necessarily aimed at kids that I would have been happy to win. Time after time, Manuela’s hand produced a sheet, and time after time, someone else’s name was read.

waldo's dog

Waldo’s dog at Pegasus Books

For the last prize, which was a set of Waldo posters and a free pass to 24-Hour Fitness, they wanted to award the prize to someone who was present, so they kept pulling out names of people who were not there. Finally, my name was called. And I got to proudly claim my prize. Of course I already belong to 24-Hour Fitness, so a free pass does me no good. And as much as I enjoyed looking for Waldo in all those businesses along Solano Avenue, I wasn’t keen to put Waldo posters on the walls of my home.

However, I noticed that the little boy who had scored the two tickets to Albany Twin Theatre wasn’t really all that excited about it, whereas I would have screamed in delight had I won movie passes. So I sidled up to his dad and asked if his son might prefer my book of Waldo posters. It turns out that, given a choice, he totally went for Waldo.

So guess who got the movie passes…It was my birthday, after all.

Tay Tah Cafe so-so

28 Sep

Tay tah cafe awning

The Tay Tah Café is at 1182 Solano Ave. at Cornell Street, across from the Albany post office.

The menu offered “Vietnamese sandwiches,” so I asked the young woman behind the cash register with the extremely quiet voice if it was the same as a banh mi sandwich, but she didn’t know. When I asked her to describe what was on it, she said there was a liver paste and mayo, as well as whichever deli meat I wanted plus veggies. I asked if I could sub in mustard, but the woman who was making the food interjected, explaining that it was just like a banh mi sandwich except that it used sliced deli meat instead of cooked chunks, and she said it was not regular mayo but their special blend. So I decided to risk the mayo but skipped the liver paste.

After the sandwich order was all straight, I asked for a medium iced tea lemonade, to which the whispery-voiced woman replied, “Do you want anything to drink?”

Tay-Tah Vietnamese sandwich

Me: (again) a medium iced tea lemonade

Her: What size?

Maybe it was her first day.

I grabbed a table outside while Dave ordered his food. A car honked at another car turning off Cornell. George and I chatted, and Dave brought out napkins. After a while, one of the customers clued us in that our drinks were sitting on the counter inside, so Dave went to rescue them. (I guess the number we sat on our table didn’t include drink delivery.) A different car honked.

George and I tasted our iced tea lemonades. They were weak, with very little flavor either from the tea or the lemonade. Then George’s combo sandwich and my tofu sandwich arrived. I had thought that the tofu might be cooked or flavored in some way. It wasn’t. The bread was warm, which was a nice touch, but the sandwich itself was pretty boring, nothing like the banh mi at Kim’s just up the street. George enjoyed his sandwich. Poor Dave just kept drinking his banana berry smoothie.

Another car honked.

Finally Dave’s beet salad arrived. It featured canned beets and a sweet Italian salad dressing that Dave was not fond of.

Tay-tah beet saladDave declared the best thing there was his smoothie. So maybe Tay Tah Café is more of a drink place. There were also bakery items that we didn’t try, so those might be good too.

Before we left, a fourth car honked at that same intersection. Not exactly the most peaceful atmosphere in which to dine, I must admit. And it seemed odd for Albany, which I think of as a rather sleepy little town. Oh, well…

I asked what the name of the café meant. Although tay tah literally means “flowing water,” it’s part of a Thai expression that means “good business.”

I wonder if there’s a Thai expression for “okay business”?

 

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